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Women’s 1500m report: Excited Nikki Hiltz shocks favorites at USA Championships

Nikki Hiltz beats Athing Mu to win the women's 1500m title at the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships, while defending champion Sinclaire Johnson was fourth.

Nikki Hiltz wins 1500m at the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships
Nikki Hiltz wins the women's 1500m title at the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE (July 8) — With a fast and exciting finish, Nikki Hiltz took home the national 1500m title last night on the penultimate day of the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon on Saturday. Athing Mu was also impressive in finishing second. The latest track and field news from the U.S. Trials.

Nikki Hiltz Stuns The Favorites

Hiltz, who represents lululemon and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., used a final burst of speed to win their first outdoor national title in 4:03.10. The 25-year-old entered the race as one of eight women who had a good chance to win Saturday night, but knew she had to get past the likes of defending champion Sinclaire Johnson, reigning world and Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu, and 2021 Olympians Cory McGee and Heather MacLean.

With so much firepower in the field, Hiltz had to use a patient strategy and time their moves just right because simply overwhelming the field wasn’t possible.

“It was kind of like, staying calm in the beginning and then making big moves at the end,” Hiltz told reporters.

Hiltz did not react when Laurie Barton of the Brooks Beasts Track Club jumped to a three-meter lead from the gun.  Instead, Hiltz kept an eye on Mu, who was running in second place at 400 meters, and stayed with McGee, Johnson, teenager Addy Wiley, and MacLean.

Barton was still leading at 800 meters (2:12.29) but by the time the field hit the top of the backstretch everyone was together again.  The pace was strong, but not too fast so Hiltz knew that there would be a big group left at the end.

“Obviously, everyone in there is like a class act and has done incredible things,” Hiltz told reporters.  “But I know that I’m a great runner, too, and I just had to believe in myself.”

At the bell, Wiley took the lead with Mu, and McGee, Hiltz and Johnson followed. Everyone else was out of it at that point. That group of five came around the final bend, and the final wind-up began.  Wiley didn’t have the top-end speed of the others and had to settle for fifth in 4:04.25. Just ahead of her, Johnson, Hiltz, Mu and McGee were barreling for the tape.

“At that point it’s just bodies,” Nikki Hiltz said after she won the title.

Read more: Elise Cranny, Woody Kincaid win 10,000m at USATF Championships 2023

Sinclaire Johnson ran to exhaustion, fell to the track just before the line, and finished fourth in 4:03.49.  Hiltz found one more gear and surged to the tape to get the win in 4:03.10. Athing Mu ran a huge personal best in second (4:03.44) and McGee got third (4:03.48).

When asked what they felt at the finish, Hiltz paused and said: “I don’t have words for it, but I think relief.”  Hiltz continued: “So much relief, joy, every emotion.”

Athing Mu wins 800 at New York City Grand Prix 2023
Athing Mu wins 800 at New York City Grand Prix 2023

Athing Mu Drops Big Personal Best

For Mu –who has an automatic entry for the World Athletics Championships in the 800m because she is the defending champion– her first serious foray into the 1500m was a resounding success. She dropped her personal best by seven seconds between rounds, and ran a tactically sound race, getting good position for the final sprint and nearly getting the win.

“I went into it the same way I felt going into the semi-finals, chilling, at peace, just excited to run,” Mu told reporters.  She added: “By the time I got to the last 100 I just wanted to give it all, just like any other race and pull it all the way through.”

Athing Mu left open the possibility that she would double in Budapest, but said that she and coach Bobby Kersee had yet to make a decision.

“I don’t know,” Mu said.  “Bobby has mentioned it numerous times this year.  So, we’ll have a conversation.  We’ll talk about it.”

If Mu declines her team spot, it will go to Johnson, who has the championships entry standard of 4:03.50 and was next in the finish order tonight.  Both Johnson and McGee said it was a very physical race.

“I felt like I got caught up in that and lost a lot of energy,” Johnson lamented.

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David Monti is the Editor, Publisher, and Founder, of Race Results Weekly, a professional distance running data and news service providing results from over 3000 events annually, and worldwide. He is based in New York City. David Monti, @d9monti - (c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

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